Rocky Mountain College has forfeited its Aug. 31 game against the Southern Oregon University football team, the Frontier Conference announced Tuesday.
The 10th-ranked Bears originally won what was the first conference game of the season for both teams, 35-30, in Grants Pass. Rocky, however, used an ineligible player in the contest and self-reported the violation to the NAIA.
With the win, Southern Oregon improves to 5-2 overall and 5-1 in conference play. The Raiders, who cracked the NAIA rankings this week at No. 22 after their fourth straight win, are now tied for first place with seventh-ranked Carroll College.
SOU head coach Craig Howard told the players during Wednesday's practice and said there was little reaction.
"They were like me," he said, "they would rather win it on the field. It's bittersweet. (Rocky Mountain) beat us. It is what it is, but we'll take it."
Montana Western will be at Raider Stadium for a 1 p.m. game Saturday.
The Rocky player in question was not enrolled in the minimum number of credits required by the NAIA to be considered a full-time student. Frontier Conference Commissioner Kent Paulson said in a press release that "this issue is strictly clerical in nature and that there was no intent to deceive anyone nor to gain a competitive advantage on the playing field."
The Bears (5-2, 4-2) drop to third place with the loss. Rocky has notified the NAIA that it is "looking into appealing" the forfeit, according the Frontier Conference's press release.
"(The players are) disappointed as you'd expect," Rocky Mountain coach Brian Armstrong told the Billings Gazette. "They took a lot of pride in that win. Like their head football coach, they don't agree (with the NAIA's ruling), they don't think it's fair, but sometimes life isn't fair. You deal with the hand that you're dealt and you move on."
The win bolsters Southern Oregon's hopes of claiming what would be its second straight Frontier Conference championship. Before the forfeit, the Raiders needed to win their last four games and receive some help in order to claim a conference title and earn the league's automatic berth to the NAIA Championship Series. Now, the Raiders control their own destiny.
"It's all falling into place," Howard said, "and now we just need to do what we planned to do."